Interview with Congressman Dennis Kucinich
TIKKUNMAIL: An email publication of Tikkun Magazine.
IN THIS ISSUE: Congressman Dennis Kucinich
The media claims to be "objective" and non-partisan, yet the
voices of the most effective national leaders against the war
are rarely quoted. To take 3 examples--Congressman Dennis
Kucinich, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and Professor Noam Chomsky.
Would you be willing to contact media and write individual
letters to media people complaining about the coverage? If so,
please contact firstname.lastname@example.org --and we will give you some
addresses of key people to contact, plus sample letters.
One of the most egregious examples is the way that
Congressman Kucinich has been ignored, though he is running
for the Democratic nomination for President. In a Newsweek
story last week in which the task was to assess how likeable
the various candidates were to people who knew them, they had
long stories about the "major candidates" (namely, those whom
the media has chosen to be considered "major") but when they
came to Kucinich they said "we'll tell you as soon as we find
out who he is." As though no one had ever heard of him. But in
fact, Kucinich has been a four term Congressman from Ohio who
is now chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House. And that
is precisely why no-one has heard of him--because the media
systematically ignores our most effective spokespeople. So,
please join our campaign to challenge media--contact
email@example.com and work with Evan, our coordinator of Media
Critique for the Tikkun Community (or call him at our new
office number 510 644 1200).
In the March/April issue of TIKKUN we interviewed
Dennis Kucinich. What he says is still extremely
important--and gives a sense of hope that there really are
some terrific spokespeople out there. Kucinich will be
speaking at Tikkun's Teach-In to Congress June 1-4th, so being
there will give you a personal opportunity to speak to this
candidate for the presidency. More info: www.tikkun.org.
Kucinich will also be in future issues of TIKKUN magazine--so
if you haven't yet joined The Tikkun Community (membership
includes a free sub to TIKKUN Magazine), join now at
Please circulate this letter and the interview with
Kucinich--it will give your friends some hope at a dark moment.
Tikkun Mar/Apr 2003 : Features : The Iraq War >
[ INTERVIEW ]
An Interview with Congressman Dennis Kucinich
An American Vision
Congressman Dennis Kucinich is a candidate for the Democratic
nomination for President of the United States. Kucinich is
co-chair of the Progressive Caucus of the U.S. Congress, and
he led the effort to have Democrats oppose the war in Iraq.
Tikkun: What is the worldview that you would bring into your
role as an American leader?
Kucinich: We live in a world in which dichotomous thinking has
led to war. I try to look at the world holistically, to
emphasize the ways that we are interconnected and
interdependent, as an integrated whole. The job of an American
leader is to bring about healing and reconciliation, by
helping us overcome the divisions in our society between
Blacks and Whites, rich and poor, us vs. other countries. If
our world is going to survive, we are going to have to rise
above these kinds of polarities, and to rise above all the
conditions which restrict our definitions of Who We Really
Are—so that we can free ourselves to become more than we are,
and thereby through our own ascent elevate the human condition.
Tikkun: What you are saying here is very close to the Core
Vision of the Tikkun Community. We've insisted that the
well-being of the United States depends on the well-being of
everyone on the planet.
Kucinich: It's important that we not separate ourselves from
others. In order to confirm our historic mission as a society,
it's imperative that we seek unifying principles—that is the
essence of what being a truly united states involves.
Tikkun: What do you mean by "our historic mission."
Kucinich: Our nation was formed through the understanding of
the unity of all people. Our sense of nationhood derives from
our sense of what we hold in common: the idea of a right to
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, which we hold in
common not only in respect to our fellow countrymen and
countrywomen, but as citizens of the world. These aspirations
flourish everywhere, and our founders understood that. They
didn't say "all Americans are created equal," but rather "all
men" (which for us means all men and women). In putting it
that way they were expressing a universal sentiment which
includes people from all over the world. America's vision is
not just of a unity of states, but of the unity of individuals
within these states and unity throughout the world.
We need to always be mindful of our historical roots and the
ways that they were derived from the spiritual principle of
Tikkun: We've found a great deal of resistance among liberals
and lefties to talking about spiritual principles, in part
because they believe that doing so threatens to bring religion
back into the public sphere, and that there it will be
right-wing religions that triumph. So they've fiercely adopted
a kind of First Amendment fundamentalism, insisting that
spiritual talk should not be part of public life.
Kucinich: We need to respect the Founders' break with the
Church of England and the significance that they gave to the
First Amendment, which provided for guarantees of freedom of
religion. And this must include freedom from religion if
someone chooses not to believe.
But while the Founders wanted to provide religious freedom,
this nation was also founded on profoundly spiritual values.
We can take great comfort from our Founders' commitment to
matters of the Spirit. They insisted on the self-evident truth
of equality—and this was a spiritual principle. In the
Declaration of Independence, the Founders recognized Nature's
God, Divine Providence, and a Creator as the organizing
principle in the universe. The Founders recognized Liberty,
which is a spiritual principle, and Life which integrates with
Spirit to find fullest expression.
The essence of our Constitution can be understood to be
expressive of high principles, not only of law and ethics
which subsume those principles, but of Spirit. Whether we look
at the first motto of the United States, E Pluribus Unum (out
of many, one), which is a spiritual principle, or in the
latter motto "In God We Trust," we have to recognize the
Founders were immersed in contemplation of a world beyond our
experience, one of spirit, of mysticism, one which saw the
potential of the country as unfolding in a multidimensional
way, both through the work of our hands and the work of our
The Founders meant to separate Church and State, but I don't
believe they ever meant to separate America from spiritual values.
We need to distinguish between the right of a nation to defend
itself and the right of any nation to assume the awful role of
Tikkun: You have been one of the few Democrats to
unequivocally critique the war in Iraq.
Kucinich: It's a foundational principle of this country that
we have the right to self-defense. In the Preamble to the
Constitution, we say that "We the People of the United States,
in order to from a more perfect Union, establish Justice,
insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence…."
It's fundamental that we have the right to defend ourselves,
and that right is recognized for all nations by the UN Charter.
We need to distinguish between the right of a nation to defend
itself and the right of any nation to assume the awful role of
There is no question that a war upon the Iraqi people would be
a war of aggression, a violation of the UN Charter, of the
Geneva Convention, and of every moral principle this country
has ever stood for.
It's reasonable for us to ask what Saddam Hussein stands for;
it's even more important to ask, "what do we stand for as a
The Iraq war may be an important transition in American
history—from a period in which we were cooperating with the
other nations of the world to affirm international law, to a
period of unilateralism. It's up to the world community to
address the challenges of disarmament, and America could lead
by fulfilling the obligations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty,
abolishing all nuclear weapons, and working to implement the
provisions of the Biological Weapons Convention and the
Chemical Weapons Convention which call for the control and
hopefully eventual elimination of biological and chemical weapons.
There are seventeen nations in this world today pursuing,
developing or currently holding nuclear weapons. Twenty
nations are doing so with biological weapons, twenty-six with
respect to chemical weapons, and seventeen nations are
developing missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass
destruction. Does it occur to anyone that we are at a time in
human history when we have the means of destroying our world?
And yet within the capacity of our hearts we also have the
means of healing our world. If there was ever a time when we
need to fashion our swords into our ploughshares, this is it.
If there was ever a time when America needed to lead the way
to disarmament, this is it.
Does Saddam Hussein need to be disarmed? Of course. And so
should every other nation.
Tikkun: The argument we sometimes hear in response is that the
circumstances are different in dealing with Saddam because he
might give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. In
the post-September 11 climate in the United States, that
concern resonates with many people.
Kucinich: I support disarmament. But if we use war to disarm
Iraq, we will create more terrorism.
If one nation proceeds unilaterally, it could easily encourage
other nations to proceed unilaterally toward their own
perceived security needs.
We should work with the world community to disarm all nations.
Any nation which possesses arms can be a threat to another
nation and can spur an arms race. Any nation that expresses
itself in a belligerent way must be brought to an accounting
by the world community. But that can only be done if the
countries involved in disciplining another country have
themselves no ulterior motives and are acting with clean
hands. Actions should not be taken for the purposes of empire,
hegemony, or control of resources.
International terrorism presents a unique challenge because it
operates without a specific territorial base. It is difficult
to hold a particular country accountable for terrorist
actions. Coordinated international police action is essential
to systematically bring to justice all those engaged in acts
of international terrorism.
Bombing Iraq will not diminish terrorism; it will create more
terrorism. We have an obligation to challenge terrorists. We
have to do so within the rules of international law, without
impairing civil liberties. The U.S. has taken a serious turn
against the interests of civil liberties with the passage of
the Patriot Act, and the Administration continues to revise,
through fiat, established criminal justice procedures. We have
the right to defend ourselves as a nation, but we have to
defend those human rights and constitutional protections that
make the condition of nationhood something we celebrate.
Terrorists win when they create conditions which lead our
government to roll back constitutional freedoms.
Tikkun: How do you account for the wimpy role of the Democrats
in this? Its leadership has only called for moving more slowly
and involving more countries, but has not challenged the war
Kucinich: Yes, many speak as though the question is what kind
of invasion, instead of questioning the thrust of the
Administration's unilateral and pre-emptive doctrines. I have
an understanding and compassion for my colleagues who are
caught in the illogic of war. There is real fear about another
attack. The Administration says, "Here is how we are going to
deal with it: we are going to blow up Baghdad, invade the
country, overturn the Saddam Hussein regime, occupy and
rebuild Iraq." Many members of Congress say to themselves,
"Let the Administration do it." This approval comes more from
fear than from an understanding of the causal chain that
brought terrorism to our shores. It lacks understanding of the
relationship between the U.S. and Iraq over the course of the
past twenty years. It lacks understanding of the consequences
of trying to force the world community to join in an attack on
Iraq. It also lacks a basis in reality, because Iraq was not
responsible for al Qaeda's role in September 11 or the anthrax
attack on our country. The Administration has not demonstrated
that Iraq is an imminent threat to the United States.
Even so, 126 Democrats had the courage to vote against going
Tikkun: But even with the new leadership in 2003, when given
the opportunity to address the nation in response to the State
of the Union address—which President Bush used to mobilize
support for war—again the Democrats failed the American
people. Instead of giving voice to the principled opposition
to the war which you, Congressman Kucinich, express, the
Democrats presented a wimpy response whose only demurral from
the impending war was to ask that more time be given to
inspectors and more allies be signed up for the invasion.
Apparently some important Democrats feel that they might be
politically vulnerable were they to take a clear stand.
Kucinich: Yes, that's true. There are some Democrats who felt
their constituencies would not accept a strong anti-war stand.
So the Caucus did not take a unified, public stand. Members
were told to vote their own conscience.
Tikkun: But this has had the consequence of eliminating the
possibility of a strong counter voice to the Administration's
mis-education of the public about Iraq. The absence of that
voice contributes to people's belief that they have no
alternative to war, and that belief in turn does make it
harder for the Democrats to speak in a principled way.
Kucinich: Yes, you are absolutely right. Yet there is a
substantial group of Democrats who strongly oppose this war,
and they represent tens of millions of Americans.
Tikkun: Is this part of the reason you are running for the
Democratic nomination for president?
Kucinich: My candidacy is in response to the yearning of
Americans for peace. For a nation which protects civil
liberties. For a country that is strong, but that doesn't want
to be a policeman of the world. For a nation that will
strengthen international law. My candidacy arises because
Americans are aware that there has been a real transfer of
wealth to the top. Americans who have worked their whole lives
to try to secure a family, a home, are witnessing the
destruction of our democracy.
Unemployment is rising. Too many Americans are losing their
jobs and their homes. Too many families are breaking up. And
this transfer of America's wealth from the many to the few is
destructive of community.
America is at a transformational moment. We can form a more
perfect Union, we can confirm our creative potential, and
actualize our highest ideals in economics and in peacemaking.
We can renew this country, we can restore the dream.
Tikkun: We'd like to know your reactions to the positions that
Tikkun has taken on the Middle East—calling for an end to the
blame game, recognizing that both sides have created the
current reality and that both sides need to do repentance, and
calling for the international community to impose a settlement
that would minimally include an end to the Occupation and
creation of an economically and politically viable Palestinian
State, return of Israel to the pre-67 borders with minor
border modifications so that Israel could incorporate the
sections of Jerusalem with a Jewish majority, reparations for
Palestinian refugees and also for Jews who fled Arab lands,
recognition and peace with the Arab world, an end to terror on
both sides, and admission of Israel and of the new Palestinian
State into NATO or some other military arrangement that would
provide military security for Israel as well as for Palestine.
Kucinich: One of the many tragedies of the Administration's
obsession with Iraq is that we've lost time and energy that
could have been applied to the Middle East. I support the
existence of the democratic State of Israel, for what it
represents as a beacon of hope and as a bastion of democracy.
I also support the creation of a Palestinian State.
I think that Tikkun's approach is the key to the resolution of
this conflict. The blame game has to end. There has to be, in
the words of one significant movement, compassionate
listening, so that people can understand the suffering that
each side has been going through. For the sake of future
generations, both sides need to take painful steps toward
genuine reconciliation. I think it can be argued that the
creation of a Palestinian State can be part of the plan to
ensure security for a democratic Israel. And I think it's our
responsibility, and the responsibility of the world community,
to take steps that would stop the killing. If we saw a brother
assaulting another brother, we'd intervene to stop it, not
take sides but try to save both brothers' lives. We should do
that in the Middle East. It will take fortitude and
imagination to create peace. I firmly believe that the
approach Tikkun has advocated, and that has been more fully
articulated in the book Healing Israel/Palestine which Tikkun
Books published, represents a path toward resolution that I
think we should follow.
We must use our hearts and heads to move toward reconciliation
and not let any group be separated from others or divided from
their own humanity. We must find the common ground that will
allow for all people to survive and prosper. We need to be
ready at every moment to create a new world, and not be
trapped by old ways of looking at reality.
Tikkun: Now that is a beautiful summary of the heart of the
Tikkun message. One thing that has led many people to despair
about getting involved in politics again is the way that past
candidacies have mobilized people and then as soon as the
election was over the energies had no further place for
expression or direction. People who have been involved in that
often feel misused and burnt out and unwilling to try again.
So a campaign needs to be about more than winning—it needs to
also be about creating an ongoing movement.
Kucinich: Yes, that's exactly what I intend to do with my
campaign. I hope people will visit www.Kucinich.us, because we
will use that website as a way to begin the process of
building an ongoing movement. It is not just about me. I feel
that I can be a channel for energizing this movement.
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